Sunday, July 29, 2007

Something For Everyone, in the American Gothic Tradition

Dear Grant Wood,

When you fall in love with a region, a house, a style of cozy living, you just want to express it. Your painting captured something priceless. (Was that really your dentist? Didn't he want to smile?)

My oldest daughter and her husband have fallen in love with a little region south of Nashville, Tennessee, right near Santa Fe. (That is Santa like the northern jolly elf and Fe rhyming with flea and like the amount you pay to renew your fishing license.) And you can renew your license right there at the crossroads in the little corner store, Netts, where you also can check your game before and check and tag it after the hunt. Before the hunt you go, chew tobacco and refer to the game catalog, checking the size and shape of turkey feathers which will clue you in to how old that bird must be to qualify for slaughter, or verify when doe season actually starts. "Is that a Friday or a Thursday?" You are reminded that "Until checked, the head of the deer must remain attached and turkey must have the head and plumage intact."

Now Sunday, don't you be going down to Netts at noon, lest you put your Sunday duds on. The place is hopping after morning service, as congregants from all the demoninations, Baptist, Baptist, Nazarene, Baptist, and Missionary Baptist, crowd in for the buffet. Who says we don't share a common cup? We surely do break bread together down at Netts.

Not that Netts is off-putting as a classy joint, not at all. But the folk there know what to respect and how to respect. And they do know how to cook, not just the standard meatloaf, fried chicken, and catfish, though you'll find none better. But Friday and Saturday the offerings include frogs legs (5 pair per order) and fresh from Leiper's Creek, I'll reckon. The last time I had frogs legs was at a French restaurant in Philadelphia. I want to guess that the shriveled specimen from the swamps of southern Jersey were shamed, (I picture those little legless froggies hanging their tiny amphibious heads in pitiable disgrace) at the comparison with the healthy, fresh, lower limbs of robust rural varieties found near Santa Fe, Tennessee.

It is the third Saturday night that is the acme of the month for this little community as they gather at the community center for the Pickin' and Grinnin' fellowship. Average age one estimate says is 72 years, though the performers are much younger, round about 64. My daughter and her husband have become the darlings of the regular attendees, if not because they still have enough energy to clap accompaniment to every song, then at least because they are willing helpers for clean-up, passing drinks, and supporting folks with walkers who need to leave mid-evening because it's getting late and the chickens still need tending.

There are chickens in the community, sure, but also a goodly number of other country critters. It is one of those areas that are a boon for children playing Cow Poker, with points racking up for white horses and pigs wallowing in mud. Our minivan came to a complete stop in front of these fellows and accompanying farm whose sign could have said, "Kodak Country Photo Op," but actually read, "Fresh Bacon."



Nett's Revisited--2008

Friday, July 27, 2007

Marriage, How to Make it Work

Dear Lisa and Peter, (And Annie and Josh)

Disclaimer: Lisa and Peter are not a couple. Peter gets married on the 11th of August and Lisa gets married the 18th. Both are the adult children of my friends. I have been invited to as many weddings this summer as I was when I was 25 and my own friends were getting married. I appreciate weddings more now than I did then, but that's another story. (Annie and Josh are a couple.)

Your weddings are hard upon us and I wish you very happy wedding days. But that really doesn't matter at all. Wedding day disasters happen and apart from some surface emotion on the part of the bride and groom's parents it doesn't matter too much at all. (The bride and groom sometimes are not even informed that a disaster has occurred.) I myself was party, Lisa, to a near disaster at your mother and father's wedding. In 25 words or less, we had volunteered to engage the services of an accompanist for the ceremony. He was a great pianist. He lived in Philadelphia, an hour+ from the church. He was not dependable. Need I say more.

But, as I said, that doesn't matter because weddings don't matter. Marriages matter. We just celebrated the 60th anniversary of my parent's wedding. At their party I was asked to read a couple of things that they liked, which I had included in my own wedding ceremony. The first is a poem from George Herbert that was set to music by Ralph Vaughn Williams.

Love Bade Me Welcome

Love bade me welcome, yet my soul drew back,
Guilty of dust and sin.
But quick-ey'd Love, observing me grow slack
From my first entrance in,
Drew nearer to me, sweetly questioning
If I lack'd anything.

"A guest," I answer'd, "worthy to be here";
Love said, "You shall be he."
"I, the unkind, the ungrateful? ah my dear,
I cannot look on thee."
Love took my hand and smiling did reply,
"Who made the eyes but I?"

"Truth, Lord, but I have marr'd them; let my shame
Go where it doth deserve."
"And know you not," says Love, "who bore the blame?"
"My dear, then I will serve."
"You must sit down," says Love, "and taste my meat."
So I did sit and eat.

This poem speaks of balance of Love and Guilt. More than you can imagine now, your lives will call upon Love, first one, now the nervous groom, and then the other, now the hopeful bride, to both Love and Forgive, Then Admit, and Submit to Forgiveness, To Serve without Rancour, to be Served Undeserved.

The other thing I read was this passage from the Bible, Song of Songs 8:6 and 7

Set me as a seal upon your heart,
As a seal upon your arm;
For love is as strong as death,
Jealousy as cruel as the grave;
Its flames are flames of fire,
A most vehement flame.

Many waters cannot quench love,
Nor can the floods drown it.
If a man would give for love
All the wealth of his house,
It would be utterly despised.

This is such a strange metaphor. Love strong as death. Yet is there anything we know stronger than the grip of death. It wields a permanency, a power over our lives and imaginations. But, here is the secret. Love is stronger than that.

Grow your love. Nuture it. Don't let it falter. For if love is healthy, it is stronger than death itself. I have used a term sometimes when talking about these things. "Deliberate desire." Desire can be a flippity gibbet, but one that can be controlled, and investment in your love is how to do that.

I could use some talk now about the centrality of our faith in all this. But you can say those words and do. Unfortunately, I think that Christian marriages fail as often as others. Live in love, act in love, commit to love, for God is love, and the other things, the precious fruits of a stable and happy marriage will be yours.

With all my best wishes,


Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Be Free

Dear Stevie,

Thanks for singing to me.

I'm looking forward to the third in the Jesus drives his truck to West Virginia and does miracles in the trailer park series.



Monday, July 23, 2007

State Children’s Health Insurance Program

Dear Friends,

Some of you know that our family, at one time, nearly lived at East Tennessee Children's Hospital. We were fighting. Specifically, we were fighting leukemia and for the life of our youngest child.

The first night there we were in a daze. I remember few specifics, just a few phrases;

"The good news is that it is ALL not AML."
"Treatment is about 2 or 2 1/2 years."
"Out of school."
"Want to reach remission in a month."

But one other important phrase I remember was this,
"Our hospital does not do wallet biopsies."

Since that time I have served on a committee for the hospital. Today, I received a request from them. Sign this petition they said.

You can read on if you'd like more information, but to me it's a no-brainer. I want this hospital to continue to say to people like me who are in a daze, who are scared beyond measure, and who may, unlike our family, have no good group insurance, "We don't do wallet biopsies."

So sign!

"The National Association of Children’s Hospitals (N.A.C.H.) and its 140 member hospitals applaud the leadership of Chairman Max Baucus (D-MT), Ranking Republican Charles Grassley (R-IA), Health Subcommittee Chairman John Rockefeller (D-WV) and Health Subcommittee Ranking Republican Orrin Hatch (R-UT) in producing a solid, bipartisan bill to reauthorize the State Children’s Health Insurance Program (SCHIP). Congress should act now to reauthorize SCHIP.

"Chairman Baucus’ mark builds on the current successes of both SCHIP and Medicaid, which together cover more than one in four children in the U.S. The bill creates the potential to cover more than 3 million additional children under Medicaid and SCHIP.

"Importantly, it invests in the development of pediatric specific measures of health care quality for children and provides funding for demonstrations of techniques to improve children’s health care quality — an investment that is sorely needed since the federal government has not invested in improving pediatric care while it heavily invests in improving care for adults.
Finally, the bill increases funding for every state, providing the opportunity for each state to enroll more eligible children, while establishing contingency funds to reduce the risk of state shortfalls that have plagued many SCHIP programs in recent years."


True Democracy and Economic Wealth Continued

Readers of the controversial blog entry of a week or so ago,

I had to bring this late comment from the True Democracy post to the top. Too good to be lost way down at the bottom of that discussion. And I have another great email comment to post on the subject tomorrow or the next day. Who said you can't talk politely about politics, religion, or sex? I'll have to work up something on sex for future discussion, as we've already covered politics and religion!


DGP said...
"Hi. My wife showed me these comments, which I have found thought-provoking, and I love the civility among disagreeing parties. These are my two cents: When I was in graduate school in the '70s, a young man (a close friend of my wife's brother)stayed overnight and, over dinner, let us know that he was part of a movement to role back social programs until Franklin Roosevelt's social network would be erased. He felt that churches and individuals would take over the function of providing for those in need. We considered him an intelligent, privileged, naive, idealistic young man whose beliefs had no chance of coming to pass. Carter was in the White House and the country had just experienced the Nixon years, government wiretaps, the enormous contributions, in cash, solicited from corporations by the Republican Party, etc. The nightmare was over; who could forget it? Since then, regulations have been rolled back not just to pre-Roosevelt (Franklin) but to pre-Roosevelt (Teddy); the trust buster and founding ecologist. Corporate heads now make 500 times as much as their workers rather than the 50 times of thirty years ago, there are essentially no limits to mergers and companies make money by shipping jobs to countries with no worker rights or benefits. The United States hemmorhages wealth through it's lopsided balance of payments. Those who insist on a quality product and fair treatment more often than not are beaten out by those who spend largely on executive pay. Chainsaw Al, the legendary company buster, made millions in bonuses by cutting jobs. Does anyone really think that a ten million a year ceiling to executive pay would be socialism? Or that extending the social security tax so that there is no longer a ceiling to deductions, which would take care of almost half of the yearly deficit for the country, is grossly unfair? Somebody does; that bill reportedly has no chance of coming to a vote. It's always possible to make more money by cutting pay, cutting benefits, deregulating, not enforcing safety standards, firing watchdogs and generally taking the short view that at this point appears to be ruining the world for our grandchildren and their grandchildren. Controlling the press is even better. Slander works; it's a tradition. That's how Nixon got rid of Ed Muskie (an attack on Muskie's wife caused Muskie to cry publicly during his defense of his wife, a kiss of death for a presidential candidate), and it was the tipping point for the last presidential election. Swift Boat tactics work, and a genuine war hero (who was anti-war) was outshouted for patriotism by a draft evader wrapped in a flag. Simply put: the health care system is worse than ever and 90% of doctors will agree, the United States appears to have gone from paragon to villain in public opinion polls in the world's democracies, morality is used as an issue to help the wealthy get wealthier (Calvinism, anyone?) and it appears to be okay to be financially greedy as long as you're not sexually greedy. I could not believe the results of the last election, but I've come to believe it. Sure, government is inefficient, but privatizing appears largely to have been a way to pay fabulous sums to those companies, such as Honeywell, that have replaced government employees with unregulated contractors. Has anyone followed the disastrous results of private contracts in Iraq? Shoddy workmanship is cheaper. Anyway, you can tell which side of the discussion I'm on. I think giving a third of my money to the common good is getting off cheap, but right now that third is being distributed to Cheney's cronies. I'd rather have a program for the poor, thank you."

Thanks DGP for your insightful comments. I like it civil. Sometimes Payne Hollow has to come in to moderate!


Thursday, July 19, 2007

White Girl Reads Black Boy

Dear Richard Wright,

Well for some time I have been reading Black Boy. I started with an abridged version, then fascinated went to the whole of what I have discovered is a two part piece that was published separately, as Black Boy and American Hunger.

You are not very soft and fuzzy. I knew that, for I have read Native Son. But you are revealing and as you were forceful in pointing out, you live in the world of emotions and you reveal emotions. They are not warm and fuzzy emotions, but they are emotions. Black Boy was particularly moving to me as an offering of the psychological makeup of an afro-american male growing up in the deep south of the early part of the 20th century.

I was interested in the two concepts that you play with throughout the two books.

1. Fear
2. Hunger

Are those the drivers of the life of the intellectual? Does fear drive us (us?) in and does hunger make us come out? Is it fear that makes us stand, shaking and then psychologically crawl to the underbrush of our personalities, spooking around for shelter. I use that phrase "spooking" because my father used to use it. He would come to our home for a visit. Then he would get bored and curious and say, "I'm going to go out and spook around." I wonder where he got that? What would you say, Richard? That word has a nasty underbelly, doesn't it? His surface meaning was that he wanted to float about and find the local haunts. In this case I think he meant nothing else.

But we float about inside ourselves looking for a steady base that can be counted on, from which we can begin to build an intellectual framework. Is it possible to retreat and find that place inside ourselves without the fear? White girl here did not grow up in fear. My fears have come late and with age and the various kickings around of life. My fears have come with rejections and incompletions and incapabilities. And hunger? I have not known physical hunger at all. Yet I cannot be satiated, now. I hunger for ideas and paths of thinking, and I hunger for relationships that feed. (You longingly mentioned a lack of friendship in your book. Did you ever find that? I hope so.)

Oh, how I wish I had enough to fill the empty belly of my brain.

I'm glad that, as hard as some of your information is to digest, you are clear that you are dealing in the realm of emotion. I think that moderns, though very emotionally driven, are slow to use the term. I, too, live in that realm and work from that gut place. But productivity isn't driven by emotion or the intersection of fear and the internal man or woman, do you think? It demands a return to the world of the other and the work of scavenging for sustenance. And it demands a common cupboard of some kind. Your work displays a very particular cupboard that has been helpful for me to see.

Well, let me go eat breakfast.


Sunday, July 15, 2007

Zorro and Zorra and the Little Zorries

Dear Dan, Josh, Cadh8, Cate, et al,

I'm anxious to get back to politics and economics. But first I must introduce you to the fam!

In the spirit of the last post on Pretty Fakes and super-conscious appreciation for seizing the day, I wanted to introduce you to the growing Zorro family. They truly are one of my nearly daily joys in life.

Here Zorro brought Zorra home to dinner to meet the family.

Then we were ecstatic to learn that there was already a fairly well grown brood of 3, very shy except for this one. The others scooted before I could draw my camera.

Later, a post on, as the New York Times calls it, The New Gilded Age.

For now enjoy the moment.


Friday, July 13, 2007

The Zorro Report

Dear Terwillinger or Tilliwinger or whatever,

Since you asked I will begin a short series of Zorro videos, just to keep you up to date.

First the bad news. Zorro has wounded his foot badly or a small infection has become a large one. He is not longer bearing weight on his back right foot. We are saddened but are not planning to intervene, for he is afterall a wild raccoon. We have debated, (hear faint conversation in video) bringing some bute (phenylbutazone) over from the farm and dosing him, but perhaps regular aspirin would be a better alternative. (Having read a little about bute, I'm sure it would be a bad choice.)

Sorry about the sound. The night was loud or something.


Wednesday, July 11, 2007

True Democracy and Economic Wealth

Dear Thomas Jefferson,

These are some definitions:

Government by the people, exercised either directly or through elected representatives — The American Heritage Dictionary

a state of society characterized by formal equality of rights and privileges

political or social equality; democratic spirit

the common people of a community as distinguished from any privileged class; the common people with respect to their political power —
If those definitions are anywhere close to reality, then a true form of democracy would not allow for the perpetuation of unlimited control, by one set of individuals, of our most valuable life resources. The American form of democracy is failing, slowly but surely, and tumbling into some form of post-modern classed aristocracy because of an untoward and malignant commitment to private property. We are beset as a nation by an underlying and pervasive notion that those who own property are graced with some form of the Divine Right of Kings to hold that property and pass it on as royalty to, not just the third and fourth generation, but ad infinitum.

Our nation is peppered with individuals who swear allegiance to democracy and then wrap themselved in a motto like that of the British monarchy, "Dieu et mon droit." We might say, "Terre et ma droite."

Thomas, here are some statistics you might find interesting. Look at them and then tell me what you think. It's not me who's the crazy one here is it? (Full data)

The top 10% of Americans control 68.8% of the wealth. The top 20% control 81.6% of the wealth. The average wealth of the top 1% of the nation is over 10 million dollars. The average wealth of the bottom 20% of the nation is almost NEGATIVE 10 thousand dollars. A fellow named David Chandler developed this little "L Curve" to demonstrate how skewed the control of resources in the United States has become. It wasn't like that when you were thinking about democracy was it?

Here is my simple recommendation, based on the principles of democracy. Wealth must be redistributed. That redistribution need not be done during the lifetime of the earner. Certainly, people deserve to experience the fruit of their labor. They should also be able to pass on a reasonable amount to their children. However, there should be limits to the amount of money that can be passed from generation to generation. OK, you heard me say it and I wanted to say it to you first.

Well, I've got to go to work now. My pile of money lies along the space in the middle of the football field, so I must spend my time working hard. But then, that is what makes democracy great. Work is a great gift. I just think that the descendents of the very wealthy deserve to engage in the American democratic struggle, just like the rest of us.


P.S. I don't think you've heard the last from me on this. I have some thoughts on Social Security Tax that I'd like to run by you.

Monday, July 09, 2007


Dear Beverly Sills,

The question on today's news quiz that I got unhesitatingly, unguessingly correct was,
7. The classical music world mourned the death of Beverly Sills, a child star who grew up to be America’s first opera prima donna. Sills, who succumbed to cancer at age 78, was born Belle Miriam Silverman in Brooklyn; what was the name she was known as when performing as a girl?
Well, of course the answer is, "Bubbles," your nickname and the title of your autobiographies from 1976 and 1981.

The New York Times article in your memory was a good one and the picture was very nice, but I remember you more like this, from the days in the late 70's when I was first discovering opera and your wonderful coloratura soprano voice. The point at which I disagree with the Times is this sentence. "Ms. Sills was America’s idea of a prima donna."

I think not. You were a diva, but you were never a prima donna, for you were not temperamental and did not assume adulation as your right. That is what we loved best about you. Prima donnas do not sing with Muppets, nor host late night TV shows. But you did, and in doing so helped to make the world of opera accessible to many who didn't realize they could love opera.

You were, without doubt, the 'First Lady' of opera to those of us who heard you sing, and when you took your final bows on the stage (didn't you stop singing a little early) we were glad that you didn't give up the theater. The last time I saw you was this spring when you hosted The Met's TV Broadcast of Bellini's I Puritani. I loved your warmth and encouragement to a new first lady of opera, Anna Netrebko. You were so gracious in your ability to love the voice of another. And in your roles as general director of the New York City Opera and chairperson of Lincoln Center and finally the Met, you helped mentor a whole generation of musicians.

How can we thank you for the beauty in music that you shared with us all of your life? The Italians might say, "Grazie per la canzone bella." But we, we all just say, "Thank you for the most beautiful of songs."


Thursday, July 05, 2007

Dear Me

It's a consideration I suppose, but blogging is just too much fun.